26th Sunday A To Live or Not to Live
‘Honour your father and your mother’ says the Bible. In the gospel parable this Sunday, a man asked his two sons to go and work in his vineyard. One said yes, but didn’t go; the other said no, but went. The culture of Jesus’ time was one whose keynote was honour. In a world that revolved around honouring one’s kith and kin the refusal of a parental request was degrading and insulting. The father of the two sons in the parable would have spoken to them with the whole extended family listening, and maybe within earshot of neighbours. The son’s refusal would have amounted to a major loss of honour that was due to his father – (cf. John J. Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, vol 1, p.141)
The son who said ‘Yes’ honoured his father even though he didn’t go; the other boy, having embarrassed the old man, eventually went and did as requested. He is an image of the tax collectors and prostitutes who by their lifestyles ignored the Law of God, but later listened to John the Baptist and repented. Jesus reminds us elsewhere that God wants his will to be done on earth rather than his name be honoured even with sacrifices in the temple – Luke 12,17 & 7,46; John 14,15. This parable is a summons to a deeper faith and trust in God and his plan.
The late Henri Nouwen in his “The Call of the Prodigal Son” recalls that the gospels are a call to believers to repent, to change from being “bystanders” to being actively involved. The Carmelite St. Therese wrote, “I always preferred to pray than to have spiritual conversations about prayer.” There are many levels of conversion to which the gospel invites people: to listen deeply to its message; to return to the practise of the faith; to a better understanding of and commitment to Christ and neighbour; to reconciliation with somebody; to sobriety; to shaking off discouragement; to being more kind, compassionate and generous; to a return to regular prayer….
“I came that they might have life and have it to the full,” cried Jesus who himself was attractively alive – John 10,10. This little parable is a wake-up call. The nay-saying son eventually felt summoned to wake up and change his mind. The gospels summon us to being more fully and engagingly alive. Many are fearful of the gospel, its expectations and its demands. “Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning,” wrote St John Henry Newman – as quoted by Timothy Radcliffe in “Alive In God” p. 31.
Fr. QQ – 09/23/2020